It is no small feat to describe Muriel Anderson’s career and list accomplishments. She is an influential guitarist, skilled multi-instrumentalist, devoted teacher, cookbook author, longtime composer, nonprofit founder, and true lover and believer in the power of music. Anderson filles us in on her varied and vast career, including her musical upbringing, current projects, and collaborating with guitar legends.
Your current project is Acoustic Chef, an international cookbook with music for each recipe. How did this come about, and how do people find it?
In the process of touring internationally, I stay with families more often than in hotels, and word has gotten around that I love great cuisine. Sometimes I’ve even been invited into the kitchen to learn family specialties and then jammed with local musicians. Writing and arranging music in the style of each recipe seemed a natural. All the recipes are pretty easy to make, and of course, it makes it more fun to cook when accompanied by the right music. You can check it out at murielanderson.com/cookbook.
I know it’s hard to pick just one, so share with us a few of your favorites.
The bruschetta is the easiest recipe and so amazingly delicious that sometimes it doesn’t make it past the butcher block table. One of the most fun and unusual is the Tuvan lamb dumplings, taught to me by the throat-singers from Tuva who sing and play on the accompanying CD.
You are such an accomplished player, Muriel. Could you please tell us a bit about your upbringing and when/how you began playing music?
Thank you. When I was about seven or eight years old, I discovered a 3/4-size guitar that a friend of my mother’s was disposing of, and I instantly began figuring out melodies on it. Everyone in the family played some type of instrument for fun so that we could play Christmas carols and folk songs together. My mother played and taught piano, and her father was a sax player in Sousa’s band and then went on to have his own dance band. At some point, I got the idea that being a professional musician like my grandfather would be pretty cool.
Which musicians have most inspired you and your style of playing?
Doc Watson was my first guitar inspiration, and then later Chet Atkins, Christopher Parkening, and many others. I’ve just recently released a TrueFire course called My Guitar Heroes, where I teach some of the things that my heroes taught me.
Is there a specific brand of guitar that you find yourself most drawn to?
That varies over time. I like handmade instruments by Mike Doolin, who built my harp guitar, a Tierra Negra or 1960s Ramirez flamenco guitar, steel-string guitars by Steve Klein, David Taylor. On tour, I often play a Camps flamenco and Brunner harp guitar.
You give workshops and offer instructional DVDs; what do you enjoy most about teaching?
I enjoy that moment where I can hear a dramatic improvement in someone’s playing, just from applying one single concept. That concept seems to be different for every student. I now have a channel where you can learn hundreds of things: truefire.com/h2495.
You founded the Music for Life Alliance. Could you tell us a bit about the charity and the inspiration behind its founding?
Initially, I was concerned about rising crime in my neighborhood due to adolescent drug use. How can you ask kids to “just say no” when you don’t give them something to “say yes” to? These efforts eventually turned into the Music for Life Alliance, and with the help of a handful of dedicated volunteers, we are able to help support organizations doing the hands-on work by supplying them with instruments and funds from my All Star Guitar Night, my annual concert, and a portion of the proceeds of my Acoustic Chef book/CD. It’s a small organization, but it’s gratifying to hear when it makes a positive difference in someone’s life.
You performed in New York with inventor and guitar legend Les Paul. What was the experience like?
You never know who you would meet backstage. One time a young ukulele player walked out on stage. I thought, “Well, Les is having a little humor onstage now,” but . . . it was Jake Shimabukuro, who proceeded to completely amaze me with his virtuosity. Les always had great stories to tell backstage. For instance, he told me about a show he played with Judy Garland where he met the inventor of audiotape for music! Les was a real part of history, and I thought he should be honored in his lifetime, so I put together an All Star Guitar Night to honor him. I rented the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville for the event, and to my surprise, Les offered to play as long as I hired his band. Of course, I did. Les and I co-hosted the show, and he never missed a chance for witty and colorful patter.
You also recorded with Nashville country music legend Chet Atkins. How did recording with Chet come about, and how did that experience impact your musical journey?
My mandolin teacher, Jethro Burns, introduced me to Chet Atkins since they married twin sisters! Chet became a mentor as a person as well as a musician. He taught me a lot about music and valued his friendships. I was careful not to ask him for much since he was already giving his time to teach me some great tunes. Chet wandered into the studio across the street from his office where I was recording a tune he wrote (and I titled) “To B or Not to B,” and picked up a guitar to say, “Why don’t you add a part like this . . .?” I responded, “Well, why don’t you play it?” He smiled and sat in front of the microphone.
What does it mean to you to be the first woman to win the National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship?
Well, I wasn’t thinking of it in terms of a goal; I simply needed something to put after my name in newspaper listings because I kept getting tagged as “singer-songwriter” instead of “guitarist.” The ability to write “guitar champion” completely solved the problem.
In addition to being a musician, you are a skilled and accomplished composer. When did you begin composing, and how do you feel your work has evolved throughout your career?
Actually, I think of myself more as a composer than a guitarist, and I was composing tunes in my head before I played guitar. Tunes write themselves in many ways, and some of my earlier compositions are much more classical, much more involved and complicated than my current music. I would like to get back to the point where I can enjoy symphonies just playing in my head again.
You’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with so many amazing musicians, from classical to country to jazz to flamenco. What other artists/genres would you like to collaborate with?
I have always wanted to play with the Paul Winter Consort. I love the way he and the members of his ensemble played with sounds of nature. I am also interested in discovering Indian music, especially because I like Indian food, and that means there is bound to be an Acoustic Chef, book two.
What can your fans and our readers look forward to from you in the near future? Where can they go/where can they follow you to learn more?
Murielanderson.com/now is where I post everything that is new, including upcoming live streams. Bryan Allen and I plan to broadcast live from his sailboat heading up the coast of Maine. In addition to playing and writing music, we will also distribute instruments to music programs for kids at our stops. Just for fun, you can catch some of our adventures at youtube.com/acousticsailing.